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The following comments have been made regarding the recent paper published by Ken Giller. Ken E. Giller, Ernst Witter, Marc Corbeels, Pablo Tittonell. 2009. Conservation agriculture and small holder farming in Africa: the heretics view. Field Crops Research 114 (1) 23-34. The debate resulted in a number of excellent comments that we would like to share through this blog. I am managing this debate by listing word for word the comments made so far. Hopefully this will be an educational and constructive debate. I have not changed or edited any comment. I encourage any one with thoughts on this subject to submit a comment by inserting it at the bottom of this list of thoughts.

This is a Delhi based group interested in promoting conservation agriculture. A paca-newsletter-issue-6 has many useful items including a summary of the 4th Congress on Conservation Agriculture held in New Delhi. Plus 10 tips for sustainable soil management. PACA also has a web site at You can also subscribe to this newsletter.


Following the successful 4th World Congress on Conservation Agriculture in New Delhi 4-7th February 2009, the following statement was released in regards to recommendations from this conference:

The New Delhi Declaration on Conservation Agriculture


The 1,000 delegates, gathered in the 4th World Congress on Conservation Agriculture, held from 4 to 7 February 2009 in New Delhi, India, among them farmers, private sector enterprises, scientists, development organizations, donor organizations and policymakers from all world continents, recognizing the urgent need


  • to double agricultural production over the next few decades,
  • to reverse the trend of degradation of natural resources, in particular soil, water and biodiversity,
  • to improve the efficiency of the use of ever scarcer production resources,
  • to address the fact that agriculture and agriculturally induced deforestation cause 30% of the actual green house gas emissions,
  • to answer the increasing threats of a changing climate to agricultural production,


agreed that Conservation Agriculture based on the three principles of


  • minimum mechanical disturbance of the soil
  • permanent organic cover of the soil surface, and
  • a diversified sequence or association of crops


is the foundation of a sustainable intensification of crop production, being as such the necessary condition to achieve, along with other complementary technologies, a sustained increase of world agricultural production and at the same time a recovery of the natural resource base and environmental services.


The delegates therefore urge all stakeholders involved at international, regional andrational level in agricultural production, research and policy making to mainstream Conservation Agriculture as the base concept for agricultural production.


Governments of the world are requested to


  • harmonize their policies in support for the adoption of Conservation Agriculture
  • introduce mechanisms which provide incentives for farmers to change their production system to Conservation Agriculture
  • pursue the case of Conservation Agriculture as the central mechanism for agricultural sector climate change mitigation in the international negotiations for a post Kyoto climate change agreement
  • include Conservation Agriculture as base concept for the adaptation of agriculture to the challenges of climate change in the National Action Plans for Adaptation
  • support the UN Food and Agriculture Organization in the endeavour to establish a special programme on Conservation Agriculture to facilitate this process in its member countries.


New Delhi on February 6th, 2009


The 4th Conservation Agriculture Congress opened in the splendid Vigyan Bhawan conference hall in Delhi with the Minister of Agriculture, Shri Sharad Pawar, the Chief guest. The guest speakers raised many issues:
1. That the timing of the conference was very timely since the number of hungry are increasing (The Millenium Development Goals is supposed to reduce this), the land available per person is decreasing and demand for food is increasing. There are also signs of soil fatigue in some places as factor productivity declines. The big question is how to produce the additional food to meet the demand? But at the same time maintain small farm profit. This conference’s them is “Innovations for improving efficiency, equity and environment”.
2. Conservation Agriculture (or farming) is an attitudinal change or mindset change in the way food is grown.
3. 80% of Indian farmers have 1 hectare nor less. They need to produce for their own subsistence needs but also the country needs surpluses to feed those without land. There is a need to incresae efficiency per unit of land and per unit of water. This can only be done by promoting much greater farmer participation in identifying constraints and experimenting with new technology.
4. There needs to be a policy for farmers, that seems to be missing in India. The new farm Bill in USA is an example of thinking at the top level of governance is needed in developing countries.
5. Introduction of sustainability, soil health and CA needs to be incorporated into University curricula in developing countries to create awareness of the issues among future agricultural stakeholders.
6. Much of the equipment used in India for CA could have been developed a 100 years ago. What is needed is to use modern engineering to develop more efficient and quality machines for all types of farmers from larger land holders to marginal ones.
7. Agriculture in India uses 57% of the wrok force, contributes 18% of GDP and 12% or exports.
8. Irrigation is used on 29% of agricultural land but with only 40% efficient. Rainfed areas also need to be brought under CA practices since they will play an important role in food productiuon in India in the future and these are the areas where poverty is highest.
9. The energy crisis brought home the serious situation in conventional farming that is dependent on fossil energy.

All this led to a statement that CA holds the hope of improving this situation in the future if it can be promoted from the top Government level down to the small land holder and all the stakeholders in between.

Another interesting issue that I would like comment relates to the fact that most of the conference talked about CA and production. We need to go one step further and talk about conserving the production through better storage and value addition enterprises. Equitable distribution of food is another issue. For example, the Indian Government raised the support price for wheat and rice last year. Farmers responded by increasing production. Now the Government has 45 million tons of grain, but only storage for 25 Mt!! Buffer stocks are needed to dampen any future crisis peaks in food production, but good storage is key.

Another interesting comment was “CA is only good for large corporate farmers and no good for poor farmers”. I believe this is not true since through use of local rental and service providers farmers without tractors and small land holdings can avail of this technology. Comments?

Last, but not least one comment that was made that soils are more hungry than thirsty. The soil biological component of the soil has been neglected leading to reduced soil biodiversity leading to many of the problems associated with declining productivity — more pathogens, poor nutrient cycling, erosion, poor water holding capacity and declining soil carbon.

Please comment on any of these issues.

The 4th Global Conservation Agriculture Conference is due to begin in Delhi, India on 4th February 2009. Past CA conferences have been held in Spain, Brazil and Kenya but this is the first in Asia. With continued growth in population and food demand but decreasing cropped area (due urbanization and industrial use), water (more competition by industry and domestic needs), soil health (especially physical and biological), and productivity in this region, holding this conference in Delhi is very appropriate. 700 delegates are expected to attend, with 80% of the presenters being foreign scientists who are leaders in their disciplines. There will be some key topic sessions for all participants followed by several break out sessions on specific topics. The web site of this conference can be found at the following link

This blog will try to review the important issues, solutions and decisions from this conference. Delhi is a huge megacity with bussling traffic, poor air quality, but a vibrant emerging economy. India and South Asian countries are dependent on agriculture for livelihoods of 60% of their population and the emergence of CA and other resource conserving technologies may be the key to sustaining and increasing  production in the future. These new management systems will hopefully reverse the degradation of soils that has been occuring over the past 30 years and help to promote improved soil health, the key basis for sustainable production.

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